Greg Leon: We're just days away from history being made with Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux. Can you give us some final thoughts going into this event?
Bob Arum: "The anticipation is really building. People are finally realizing, my own people, how historic this fight is. We're about to see history being made and I think it's going to be a really, really, really good fight. I'm not trying to sell tickets, I'm not trying to sell pay-per-views, this is really how I feel."
GL: Do you anticipate Lomachenko's dynamic offense to overcome Rigondeaux's snoozer tyle?
BA: "Rigondeaux has a snoozer style, but what he does is he buids up points early and then he coasts and stinks you out. He's not going to be able to build up points on Lomachenko, so he's going to have to fight the whole fight. He can't be passive. Rigondeaux is a very good fighter and he's got a lot of great skills. I expect it to be a terrific fight and I'm looking for Lomachenko to stop him late."
GL: Even though he's the naturally bigger guy, is Rigondeaux the most difficult possible you could have booked?
BA: "I think so. I think Rigondeaux is a special fighter and he's a tough out. Their size isn't much of a difference, especially sine we have a provision insisted upon by the Rigondeaux camp that there has to be an early morning weigh in the next day at 139 pounds, so they'll be about the same size when they get in there."
GL: You also have your two blue chippers on the show in separate bouts.
BA: "They're two guys, Shakur Stevenson and Mick Conlan, that I think are going to be major, major stars. We always have planned to keep them apart and not to put them on the same card, but this was the last opportunity to fight the both of them, and it's in Madison Square Garden and we didn't want to deprive either of them the opportunity. I'm very anxious to see Shakur, because he spent some time sparring with Lomachenko and his people tell me he's learned like he went to school."
GL: Top Rank developed Miguel Cotto masterfully into a multiple division world champion and future hall of famer. Was it sad for you to watch him go into retirement that way?
BA: "Athletes die young. The periods of their prowess last just so long, some a little longer than the other, but eventually this happens to every athlete. How few are the athletes that are able to call it quits coming off a major victory? The only one I can remember in recent history is Andre Ward."
GL: And Lennox Lewis.
BA: "And Lennox you're right."
GL: When you hear the name Miguel Cotto, what's the first thing that pops into your head?
BA: "He was a warrior and he never turned down an opponent and he always gave it 100%."
GL: Speaking of warriors who never turned down an opponent and always give it 100%, what's up with Manny Pacquiao? Will he fight again?
BA: "I don't know, we're going to see. Hopefully we can arrange something for the spring. As you know I'm going to be going to Australia after this fight. Terence Crawford will be with me to see what Australia is like, and we're going to be there for the Jeff Horn fight. And now thanks to our friends at ESPN that fight will be shown at 6:15 in the morning on ESPN, but the plan is for Crawford to fight the winner between Horn and Corcoran."
GL: It looks like the best light heavyweight in the world without a belt is Gvozdyk, when can we expect him back in the ring?
BA: "He is going to fighting on the 16th of February. He's the mandatory for [WBO champion Sergey] Kovalev, but Kovalev has until July to fight him, so Kovalev can do an interim fight in the meantime. With [WBA champion Dmitry] Bivol, Barrera is the mandatory, but I don't know which way Barrera is going to go. If Barrera turns that down, then Gvozdyk is the mandatory. The WBC is voting to rule on the whole situation of Eider Alvarez stepping aside so Stevenson could fight Badou Jack, and then if Alvarez doesn't do it, he's out, and Gvozdyk fights an eliminator and the winner of that fight would fight the winner of Stevenson-Badou."
GL: The WBC has sure done a legendary job of muddling up that light heavyweight division, that's for sure.
BA: "I know they have. Hopefully it's going to be all straightened out now. We're meeting with Gvozdyk on Thursday to see what direction he wants to go in, but in either event, he will be fighting on ESPN February 16th."
GL: What did you think of Jose Ramirez's recent win?
BA: "He's terrific, he's a great young man and he does more for society than nearly ever fighter. He's a leader in the Latino water coalition and we won that battle by getting funds allocated for a big dam up there. Our next battle for the Latinos will be on immigration rights for the workers who have been picking produce out of the central valley of California for the last twenty years. Jose has gotten me involved with it, he's one of the spokespeople and we had a long meeting with him and the plan is to bring him into New York on March 16th to put him on a card we're doing at the Garden. He'll be fighting Don King's fighter Amir Imam and young New Yorkers will get a taste of the battles these two dinosaurs had with each other when we were young, me and King."
GL: Sounds like a busy start to next year, you've got Gvozdyk on February 16th, Ramirez-Imam at the Garden in March and Zurdo-Hadeed is set for February 3rd at Corpus Christi, correct?
BA: "That is correct. We have a very interesting title fight on the undercard that we're going to be announcing next week. I love Corpus Christi. It's a beautiful town, it's on the water and they have a beautiful new arena that they've built. We expect a big crowd and it's the Saturday of Super Bowl weekend."
GL: What's up with Diego Magdaleno?
BA: "I spoke with his manager the other day and he's ready to come back. He's going to be fighting some time in March and I think we're going to pair him with Oscar Valdez in separate bouts."
GL: How many ESPN cards do you expect to do next year?
BA: "A minimum of 18. But you see, ESPN really understands what a vehicle boxing is. It's no accident that we've been able to get them to do fights from Tokyo, from Australia, from anywhere no matter what the hour is. It's not a question of money, it's a question of will people watch it? When we did a fight from Tokyo that aired over here at 7:15am and 250,000 people watched that fight. That's remarkable! And another 250,000 watched the delay that evening. I think that has shown ESPN the incredible audience we have for boxing.
"What this ESPN venture has done is to establish what we'd all been hoping and have been thinking was true. The naysayers have said that boxing is the old man's sport and the UFC is the young man's sport. And they used the figures of boxing on HBO and Showtime and the UFC to show that the UFC was doing appreciably better with the young people group of 18-49 and 18-35.
"When we started on ESPN we went head to head with the UFC and we not only beat the UFC, we destroyed them in this group of the young demographic. I would have liked for somebody to say that I'm taking credit for those numbers, no, because now we're on a level playing field. Why? Because UFC was on FS1, on Fox, it was on free television. Now we're on free television too. By and large young people can't afford a monthly fee for premium television, but they certainly have regular packages, so Fox, FS1 and ESPN is available to them, and that's a truer test, and the young demographics for us are 50-60% better than UFC's. UFC is in a state of shock now. Why do you think Dana White is talking about going into boxing? Because he now knows that it's been exposed that boxing is the much more viable sport than mixed martial arts."
GL: It's just like you said, now the playing field has been leveled. That's what we needed, along with the top level fights.
BA: "That's exactly right. The thing that's good is Showtime and its parent company CBS, Les Moonves, is a guy that understands the television business and they've been very supportive, they say the right things. The putz that is directing the sports at HBO is operating in his own universe. He's against us! He's against us because we used to be with him, so he does everything in his power to try and hurt us, which he really can't do. All he's hurting is his own company when he counter programs us. Why? That's stupid. We're not in the same business. We're over the air and we sell commercials and so forth, he's supposed to be providing a service for his subscribers.
"Why counter program? If you feel you've got the bigger attraction then fine, but you can't counter program with garbage. We have a historic fight that everybody is talking about, two gold medals for each of them, so on and so forth, and they're coming with a bunch of Spanish schmegeggies in Las Vegas where nobody is and they won't sell a ticket. Why counter program? They could have saved the money instead of pissing it away.
"They'll say well Salido isn't a bad fighter and he isn't a bad fighter, but what they should have done was take Salido and pair it with the Saunders-Lemieux fight on December 16. They take Lemieux and Saunders and put garbage with it and all they're going to do is hurt their own ratings on December 16th. The problem is the guy who is running sports at HBO right now is totally incompetent and has no experience, none. If and when that merger takes place I think the first thing AT&T will do is take that sports department and give it to Turner and let Turner schedule fights on HBO. We don't want HBO to go out of boxing, we need them in boxing, but they can't keep counter programming us with these cockamamie fights that nobody cares about."
GL: They're definitely going to be reading about this.
BA: "Well good, let them read about it. It's about time because at one particular point in time, the adults and I still believe there are adults at HBO, will step in and take control of their network."